Teamwork helped save a baby humpback whale in Wellington Harbour after it got twisted in cray pots yesterday.
A group of fishermen spotted the nine-metre long whale in Fitzroy Bay around 9am yesterday, at the southernmost entrance to Wellington Harbour.
A specialist Department of Conservation (DOC) whale rescue team from Kaikoura was sent to the area after being contacted by police.
The crew arrived in Wellington around 1pm, and were taken to the area by maritime police on the Lady Elizabeth IV. They then got in a smaller launch to get closer to the whale.
There was no sign of any other humpbacks in the area.
Rescue team member and DOC volunteer Gordon O'Callahan says while the team was well-versed in rescuing whales, they faced a number of challenges with this one.
Normally when whales get entangled it is their tails which are caught up, but this humpback had the cray pot line wrapped around its left pectoral fin.
That meant the whale was vertical and coming up for air, rather than horizontal.
The creeping darkness also meant time was against the rescue team.
"If we hadn't have freed that whale it would have drowned overnight," Mr O'Callahan says.
A knife on an extension pole was used to cut the "exhausted" whale free, before it swam off to freedom.
Mr O'Callahan says even though there is training available in how to rescue whales, it can still come down to thinking on your feet.
"Nothing is textbook – we're all qualified to a standard, but you just have to make it up sometimes as you go along."
In July, two humpback whales were seen cruising around the harbour near Matiu/Somes Island and were followed along the coast by a number of whalespotters.
It came days after the month-long annual whale survey in the Cook Strait, in which the largest number of humpback whales ever were recorded in the area.
A DOC spokesman at the time said the increasing population would inevitably mean more humpbacks would enter Wellington Harbour.
Mr O'Callahan says that also means more entanglements could be a by-product of the increasing numbers.
Anyone who spots a whale in trouble shouldn't try and help it themselves, and should instead call the DOC hotline on 0800 362468 and stay with the mammal until help arrives.